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Illustrations by Brittany England

How we see the world shapes who we choose to be — and sharing compelling experiences can frame the way we treat each other, for the better. This is a powerful perspective.

Let’s say you’ve been suffering from pain for a while, perhaps years.

Thinking, ever so naively, that being in constant pain for months on end isn’t normal, you go to your doctor. He orders blood work and maybe an X-ray or a sonogram. All results come back normal, so your doctor dismisses your concerns.

Maybe he accuses you of being a drug seeker, since the only people with “real” pain are either dying or lying.

I get it. It took me 32 years to get a doctor to take my pain seriously — and to get a diagnosis with a connective tissue disease I was born with that no doctor ever noticed my obvious symptoms of, whoops.

I don’t want you to wait decades for answers, though. So here are some expertly curated tips and tricks to get your doctor to listen to you, take your pain seriously, and — gee-whiz-gosh-golly! — maybe even help.

1. Say “I am in pain.” Be ignored or dismissed, because it can’t be that bad. Leave with your tail between your legs, you wascally wabbit.

2. Say “I am in severe pain.” This time your doctor will respond! With an eye roll. Followed by a reminder that all your blood work is negative and you don’t “look sick.” Leave the doctor’s office, you dramatic exaggerator, you!

3. Wear a button that says, “Friendly reminder: I Am in Pain.” Pin it to your shirt that says, “REAL BAD PAIN, DOC.” Make sure he looks at your throat so when you stick your tongue out and say “ah,” he’ll see your new tongue tattoo that says: “YOU TOOK AN OATH.”

4. Bring a polygraph machine to your next appointment. Make sure you’re hooked up to it when you remind your doc that you’re in severe, daily pain. He’ll acknowledge that while the machine claims you aren’t lying, your insurance doesn’t cover polygraph tests, and thus, he can’t take the results into account when determining your treatment plan, which is yoga.

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5. When your doctor suggests yoga, solemnly inform him that your pain is so bad you can’t even do yoga. So, if he could just help with this widespread joint and muscle pain that is slowly, steadily debilitating you more and more each week — whether that be physical therapy or pain meds or a specialist or just, you know, something — you promise to take a yoga class.

6. Write a guide called “A 30 Second Primer on Basic Human Decency” and anonymously mail it to your doctor the week before your appointment. He won’t read it — that is the catch-22 of the decency primer.

7. Get your hands on a traffic light costume. Cut out two red felt circles and sew them over the yellow and green lights. When it’s time for your next appointment, don you now your pain apparel. The doctor will take in your costume of three red lights and begin to ask “Why?” This is when you chime in with, “Why are they all stop lights? Glad you asked! So you’ll STOP ignoring my pain.”

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8. Bring your corgi for sympathy because that wily pup with those big brown eyes can get any human to do anything for her, up to and including persuading medical professionals to take her mother’s pain seriously. If you don’t have a corgi, you can borrow mine.

9. Dress like a clown. Cry, cry your big, sad clown tears. “Doc,” you’ll plead, “they say clowns only cry in secret. But look at me go!” Your doctor will diagnose you with “Crocodile Tear-Itis” and likely give you a psych referral before officially dropping you from his practice. That night you’ll ruminate in your rocking chair, still clad in your clown costume, muttering to yourself as you try to figure out where it all went wrong, “But... everybody loves a clown.”

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10. Bribery is a solution that never backfires! Your doctor may be rich in money, but you’re rich in pain! Bake him a cake of pain. Or get one of those novelty buzzers your elementary school teachers hated and shock him when he shakes your hand. When he hollers, explain, “Now you know how I feel! Let’s talk pain management solutions.”

11. Get your partner or a friend to come with you wearing an altered “I’m With Stupid” shirt so it says, “I’m with My Loved One Who Is Suffering and I Want You to Listen to Her and Stop Making Her Life Harder.” Make sure they position themselves so that the arrow points to you.

12. Go to medical school and become a doctor, figure out the source of your pain, cure it with an outrageous, newfangled, revolutionary, Nobel Prize–winning new treatment. You’re now pain-free, but don’t lose focus! Make sure you rub it in your doctor’s face and never forget that you didn’t do all this to cure your pain, but to spite him.

13. Die in front of your doctor, with fingers crossed (to increase the chances of resuscitating you). If you don’t die, he will probably say you were exaggerating.

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If you die, congratulations! Your pain was real, you were very sick, and everyone who doubted you is very sorry. We wish you lots of success in the afterlife.


Ash Fisher is a writer and comedian living with hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. When she’s not having a wobbly-baby-deer-day, she’s hiking with her corgi, Vincent. She lives in Oakland. Learn more about her on her website.